Under the leadership of the military establishment, a Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) has been formed to stymie Pakistan’s economic downfall and harness its untapped opportunities for development and growth. The format of the council will enable the businesses to function without bureaucratic hurdles and structural inefficiencies in the regulatory and policy formulation system.
Recently, Pakistan’s Army Chief held special meetings with the business community to take a pulse of the prevalent business sentiments. During his meeting, General Asim shared with businessmen the prospects of receiv-ing huge investments from Gulf countries under the SIFC. He told the business community that Saudi Arabia had pledged to invest $25 billion in Pakistan. Regarding the UAE, the army chief has requested the Emirates’ rulers to invest another $25 billion in the SIFC-led projects. He has re-quested both countries to give Pakistan $10 billion each to help it over-come the foreign exchange crisis. The money shall be returned in rupees once Pakistan gets back on its feet.
According to the businessmen, the Army Chief has shown resolve never to return to the IMF because the program takes away power from the gov-ernment to initiate reforms. He further instructed core commander Karachi to take every measure to stop the smuggling of Iranian oil. He also prom-ised a crackdown on smugglers and hoarders of sugar and dollars. The results are already visible in the reduced cost of both commodities.
Pakistan and the GCC countries have had a solid business relationship built on agriculture-based business until the 1980s and till the late 90s. Later, due to falling quality standards and a lack of value-added products, Pakistan fell out of Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar’s list of reliable importers. That does not mean that Pakistan was removed from their importer’s list; there was, however, a significant reduction in the volume of imports to these countries. This volume will stagnate or reduce more unless we follow international quality standards.
The formation of the SIFC will address the issue of quality management and control. The investors arriving in Pakistan for the production of edibles through agriculture and livestock farming shall be facilitated with pro-cessing and packaging standards aligned with the international standing operating procedures.
The GCC countries, including the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, have ac-quired on lease thousands of hectares of land in Ukraine for farming; how-ever, the prospect of continuing the contract has dimmed considerably due to the Russia- Ukraine war. On board with SIFC, this investment can be routed to Pakistan to procure large lands for agricultural farming, set up factories to manufacture value-added food products and enable investors to acquire food storage and supply chain facilities.
The SIFC shall focus on five areas: agriculture, mines, minerals, infor-mation technology, energy, and defense production. The target is to attract $100 billion in the next three years in Foreign Direct Investment and to achieve a nominal GDP of $1 trillion by fiscal year 2035. So far, 28 projects have been approved, including cattle farms, the $10 billion Saudi Aramco refinery, explorations of copper and gold in Chagai, and the Thar Coal Rail connectivity scheme.
Though the forum would be open to all investors worldwide, the initial tar-geted countries are Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain. The inves-tors from these countries would be issued priority visas for a swift execu-tion of investment deals. The SIFC mandate lends power to its apex com-mittees to summon regulatory bodies and government representatives in case a bureaucratic hurdle impedes the execution of any project. The council can also facilitate clients through regulatory relaxation and exemp-tions without exceeding the existing legal provisions. The forum was fur-ther strengthened with the passing of the Special Investment Facilitation Council bill by the Pakistan Parliament on August 1. The legal framework and facilitations are raised to address the GCC investors’ insecurity regard-ing policy continuity and Pakistan’s unpredictable business environment.
According to the 2023 US Department of State, annual report titled “In-vestment Climate Statements: Pakistan,” foreign investors in Pakistan have been unsatisfied with the legal system of the country and have asked for improved statutes, protection of intellectual property rights, and an assur-ance that Pakistan would honour its contractual obligations along with providing an enabling environment for the settlement of tax disputes.
With the military fully onboard, I hope SIFC will prove a panacea to Paki-stan’s economic woes. It will also work as a sovereign guarantee that no political change would affect the continuity of business policies in the fu-ture nor the commitments granted to foreign investors.
According to a responsible representative of a friendly Arab country, it was the effort of Lt. General Nadeem Anjum that Pakistan and its army were saved from disintegration on May 9, 2023. He also said that if General Anjum had not taken timely action under the stewardship of General Asim Munir, Pakistan would have suffered innumerable losses. He further said that as the ISI chief, General Anjum is better positioned to handle the spec-ter of terrorism emanating from Afghanistan.